A reader writes in:
I’m Spanish, and I’m a trainee High School teacher in Spain. Spanish is a language with two grammatical genders: male and female, and when it applies to inanimate objects there isn’t any logic to it. Tables and chairs are female. Glasses and dishes are male. “Person”, “people” and “humankind” are female.
I teach a class of pre-University students (17-18 year-olds) who have to prepare for the pre-university exam. One of the tasks in this exam is a composition, so I have given as homework, and corrected, two compositions already. I have noticed a great tendency to treat English words like “Government” and “people” as male, and also to use “men” as a synonym of people. In general, it doesn’t sound rethorical (“A step for a man……”) but clumsy.
I need to tell them “don’t say man when you mean people” and I don’t know if I should pretend that this is all a question of language, and not at all of politics, in order to get the message accross better. In theory, I should encourage them to reject discrimination and think critically. In reality, I don’t know if I can afford to be known as “the feminist one, who will correct all my homework with a feminist bias / who is crazy / who is weird / who favours the girls / etc etc etc”
Any suggestions about what to do?